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The best travel credit cards in Canada for 2024

Natasha-M 1
Natasha Macmillan, Business Unit Director - Everyday Banking

February 27, 2024

Travel credit cards can be one of the best ways to lower the cost of travel, by rewarding you with hotel points, miles and more, just by making everyday purchases. Find the best travel credit cards for 2024 from our carefully chosen selection.

Canada’s best travel credit cards at a glance

Best travel credit cards in Canada for 2023 - by category

Best overall travel credit card and best travel credit card with no foreign exchange fees

featured

4.0 Ratehub rated

Best for Travel perks

First year reward
$715/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $150 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 3pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

30,000 bonus points (a $300 value)

Honourable mention for best overall travel credit card

featured

5.0 Ratehub rated

Best for Groceries & dining

First year reward
$660/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $156 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

15,000 bonus points (a $150 value)

Best no fee travel credit card

featured

First year reward
$364/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $0 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

10,000 bonus points (a $100 value)

Best travel credit card for travel insurance

featured

4.5 Ratehub rated

Best for Groceries & dining

First year reward
$980/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

40,000 bonus points (a $400 value)

Best Visa travel credit card

featured

4.0 Ratehub rated

Best for Travel

First year reward
$1,147/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $139 annual fee

Earn rewards

2pts – 8pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

135,000 bonus points (a $675 value)

Best Mastercard travel credit card

featured

Best for Travel perks

First year reward
$808/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $150 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

70,000 bonus points (a $466 value)

Best airline travel credit card

featured

3.5 Ratehub rated

Best for Aeroplan Points

First year reward
$1,216/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $139 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 1.5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

30,000 bonus points (a $600 value)

Anniversary bonus

10,000 pts (a $200 value)

Best hotel travel credit card

featured

Best for Hotel stays

First year reward
$1,433/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee

Earn rewards

2pts – 5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

80,000 bonus points (a $936 value)

How to choose the best travel credit card - frequently asked questions

What is the best credit card for travel points?


Do travel credit card rewards expire?


How do I maximize my travel credit card's rewards?


Everything you need to know about travel credit cards

How do travel cards work?

Fundamentally, all travel credit cards in Canada work the same way: for each dollar you spend on the card, you earn points or miles that can be redeemed to partially or fully cover travel expenses. The more you spend, the more points or miles you earn, allowing you to maximize your travel savings.

However, outside of these fundamental aspects, the details around reward redemption and the value of each point or mile can differ depending on the specific credit card and its rewards program. We touch on some of the major differences between credit card travel programs below.

Why get a travel card?

Travel credit cards can save you money on travel expenses through the collection and redemption of points or miles. The points or miles you collect by using these cards for everyday purchases can be exchanged for discounts on flights, accommodations, and car rentals (just to name a few). Not only that, but some travel credit cards also come with added perks such as VIP airport lounge access, complimentary checked baggage, and priority boarding.

In addition, travel credit cards often carry extensive insurance benefits, including (but not limited to) flight interruption/cancellation, baggage loss/delay, emergency medical, and car rental collision loss/damage.

How to choose a travel credit card?

With Canadians enjoying more choice thanks to an ever-growing array of travel credit cards, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to pick the one that works best for you. Luckily, by educating yourself about a few key features, it can be easier to select the card that matches your needs and spending habits the most. Here are some important things to consider:

Sign-up bonus

  • While bigger is generally better when it comes to sign-up bonuses, consider whether the card is the right fit for you in the long run. Simply put, don’t let an offer alone sway you into picking a particular card since you’ll likely keep it even after the offer ends.
  • You’ll also want to get familiar with the terms of the sign-up offer, as you may need to hit a minimum spend within a specific time frame in order to qualify for the bonus (i.e. making at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months of opening your account)

Earn rate

There are two kinds of earn rates:

  • Flat earn rate that offers the same number of points across the board for all types of spending – ideal for those who prefer simplicity and whose spending doesn’t skew to particular categories.
  • Bonus earn rate that offers a higher return on specific categories like gas, groceries, or dining. To maximize rewards, you should ensure that any revved-up bonus categories match your spending patterns.

Flexibility

  • General travel cards offer great flexibility by letting you redeem miles or points for a range of items, including flights on any airline — an ideal option if you don’t favour a particular carrier.
  • Co-branded cards only let you redeem points with select partners, however, they often feature airline or hotel-specific benefits and perks typically not available on cards that aren’t affiliated with a specific loyalty program (i.e. free checked bags and discounts on companion flights).
  • Collecting points or miles can save you money on travel expenses (flights, hotels, car rentals, etc.)
  • Comprehensive travel insurance packages 
  • Extra benefits such as VIP airport lounge access, priority boarding, complimentary checked baggage, etc.
  • Generous welcome offers that allow you to earn introductory points
  • Some cards will let you transfer your points to airline and hotel loyalty programs

Perks and benefits

  • While not as eye-catching as a big welcome bonus, perks can save you lots of money and make flying or hotel stays more enjoyable.
  • Important benefits to look out for include insurance (like medical, lost baggage, and hotel theft), rental car discounts, and airport lounge access.
  • Evaluate the relevance and value of a card’s perks by anticipating how often you’ll actually use them.

Annual fee

  • The majority of premium travel cards come with an annual fee averaging $120.
  • You’ll want to assess whether the card’s rewards and money-saving perks (like travel insurance) will help you come out ahead and offer more value than the annual fee.

Eligibility requirements

  • The top travel cards tend to have specific income and credit score requirements (typically around $60,000 and 650 respectively).
  • Ensure you fit the requirements rather than applying blind because a hard check on your credit rating could decrease your score by up to 10 points. The best course of action is to research if a card has an income requirement and check your credit score before you apply (note: unlike when a card issuer or bank inquires about your score, checking your own credit score won’t impact it in any way).

What are the pros and cons of travel credit cards?

Pros

Cons

  • Travel cards typically come with annual fees 
  • Point redemption flexibility may be affected by blackout periods
  • You may have to spend a certain amount on the card to take advantage of welcome offers
  • In some cases, you can lose your travel points/miles if your account is inactive for too long

How to apply for a travel credit card?

Check your eligibility

The first thing you'll want to do before applying for any new credit card is make sure you meet it's criteria for eligibility. While each card and provider may differ, in general you'll need:

  • Canadian residency or citizenship
  • A Canadian credit file
  • Age of majority status in your home province or territory
  • Annual income (this will depend on the card’s minimum income requirement)

Apply online

Once you're ready to apply online, simply click through the application portal on your provider's website and follow these steps:

  • Read and confirm the details, terms, and conditions of your chosen card.
  • Provide the personal information required (this usually includes your full name, date of birth, residential address, phone number, and email)
  • Provide your Social Insurance Number
  • Provide financial information such as your annual income and any recurring monthly expenses.
  • Confirm your identity by providing photos of an original government-issued ID such as a passport or driver’s license
  • Take an extra moment to look over the information you’ve supplied, then submit your application.

One important thing to note is that credit card applications almost always involve a hard credit check. While these will take a temporary bite out of your credit score, the damage is easy to bounce back from after a few months of responsible credit usage. Too many applications and credit checks at once, however, can cause serious damage to your credit and reduce your chances of being approved for credit cards, mortgages, or other loans in the future.

Redeeming travel credit card rewards

There are three main redemption models by which travel credit cards operate, with each having its own level of difficulty in terms of ease of use. Some rewards programs, like American Express Rewards, even let you access multiple models.

Consistent points programs

Consistent points programs live up to their name by offering unwavering point values. Regardless of the airline, hotel, destination, or time of the year, the value of each point remains the same.

The significant advantage of consistent points programs is their simplicity, making it easy to calculate the value of your rewards. However, it is worth highlighting that point values can fluctuate when redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, or statement credits.

Variable or flexible points programs

With variable or flexible points programs, points don't have a consistent value and change depending on various factors, such as travel destination and seasonality. These models are usually based on charts and tables that cardholders must consult to know the value of their points.

While these programs may introduce a degree of complexity into the redemption process, they offer a significant advantage: the potential to extract greater value out of each point. If you’re willing to invest time in research, they can offer unique and more generous redemption opportunities, like discounted business-class tickets or stays at ultra-premium hotels that might otherwise be out of reach. Additionally, you can maximize the value of your rewards by strategically planning your trips to specific destinations and during particular times of the year - a benefit not available when point values are consistent.

Point transfers

Point transfers allow you to transfer points from one rewards program to another and can be useful when trying to take advantage of multiple rewards programs. Not all point transfers are 1:1, so you will need to figure out the transfer ratio before moving ahead with the transfer. 


General travel cards versus co-branded travel cards

General travel cards

General travel cards are not tied to any specific airline or frequent flyer program. Points earned on these cards can be redeemed for travel with a wide range of flight carriers and hotel chains. The major appeal of general travel cards lies in their flexibility, allowing you to use your points for flights from literally hundreds of carriers of your choice. If you don’t frequently fly on a particular airline and prioritize flexibility over the benefits associated airline loyalty status, such as like priority check-in, then general travel cards are a better fit for you.

It’s worth noting that when redeeming points on a general travel card, in some cases, you will need to use the credit card’s proprietary travel agency (i.e. BMO Points must be redeemed on BMORewards.com or with a BMO travel agent).

Co-branded travel cards

Co-branded credit cards are connected to a specific frequent flyer or loyalty program (e.g., Aeroplan, Air Miles, or Marriott Bonvoy), and are a testament to the old adage “loyalty pays.”

These cards can offer excellent value by allowing you to earn bonus rewards or discounts when you use the card at retailers, airlines, or hotels partnered with the co-branded credit card. In many cases, these cards also provide benefits like priority check-in, complimentary hotel stays, or free checked bags.

While these cards may lack flexibility since the points you earn can only be redeemed from one of the co-branded card’s partners, they can be the right choice for you if the card is associated with your favourite airline, hotel program, or retail network.

Best co-branded credit cards in Canada:

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite

Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express

WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard

Travel credit cards versus cash back credit cards

Unlike travel cards, which use a point-based reward system, cash back cards offer a percentage of cash back, especially when you use them to make specific types of purchases. Depending on the provider and card, you'll be free to redeem your cash back as a statement credit, use it to buy gift cards or merchandise, or put it into a savings account.

If you're wondering whether a travel rewards card or a cash back card is the better choice, consider your current lifestyle and what you like to spend money on. If you're currently travelling a lot and would only like to use your rewards on expenses like flights, accommodations, and car rentals, a travel rewards card will give you the most bang for your buck as these cards typically offer higher point values in that category.

If, however, you're going to be using the card for a wider variety of purchases, a solidly earning cash back card may be the better bet. These cards usually offer higher points in a wider variety of categories, giving you the flexibility to earn and redeem in different areas like groceries, gas, recurring bills, and more.


Common perks found on travel cards

When choosing a travel credit card, don't just focus on the welcome bonus and points/miles. Most travel cards also come with extra perks and benefits, which could sway your decision between two equally valuable cards. Some common perks to look out for include: 

Airport perks

Many travel credit cards offer a range of perks to enhance your air travel experience. These perks can include access to VIP lounges, complimentary checked baggage, priority boarding, and higher priority for seat upgrades. Additional benefits may encompass access to expedited security lanes (helping you get to your gate faster), ane even complimentary valet service.

No foreign transaction fees

One of the significant advantages of some travel credit cards is their elimination of foreign transaction fees. These fees can quickly add up when you're using your credit card abroad, but with the right travel credit card, you can avoid them altogether. This means you can make international purchases and travel with peace of mind, knowing that you won't incur additional charges for currency conversion. Whether you are shopping, dining, or booking accommodations overseas, a travel card without foreign transaction fees can save you money.

Hotel perks

Your travel credit card continues to provide benefits when you reach your hotel destination. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card allows users to attain Gold Elite Status after using the card for ten stays at any of their hotels. At this level, cardholders can enjoy extra bonus points, late check-out, enhanced in-room internet service, and room upgrades (subject to availability). In addition, members gain access to exclusive room rates and a reservation guarantee.

Travel insurance

While many of us will happily devote endless hours to deciding what attractions and restaurants to hit on an upcoming vacation, few of us give as much attention to another crucial element of a successful trip: travel insurance.

Luckily, there are many travel credit cards (especially premium cards that carry an annual fee) that offer travel insurance as a key perk. While the variety, monetary amounts, and eligibility qualifications (like age) tend to vary, overall a travel credit card’s insurance offerings can be one of its most attractive benefits. That’s because buying travel insurance on your own could otherwise cost you around 4% to 10% of your total trip, meaning that a comprehensive insurance package could save you hundreds of dollars. Of course, those savings can exponentially increase if you need to make a claim.

Many of the best travel credit cards in Canada offer more than a dozen types of insurance, ranging from hotel burglary to trip interruption and delayed baggage coverage. The card and coverage that works best for you will depend on your travel needs.

Here’s a look at some of the main types of insurance:

Out-of-Province travel emergency medical


Travel accident coverage


Travel interruption coverage


Flight delay insurance


Lost / delayed baggage


Rental car collision loss / damage


Hotel / motel burglary


Important things to know about travel insurance

To get the most out of your credit card travel insurance, it’s vital to read the fine print. There’s an array of exclusions, eligibility requirements, and compensation amounts. Here are some key points:

  • For the insurance to kick in, requirements vary. You’ll usually need to charge anywhere from 75% to 100% of the cost of your trip to your card.
  • As noted above, coverage only lasts for a specific number of days depending on your age. Those 65 and older are usually only offered very limited (if any) coverage. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for extra travel days.
  • Most credit card insurance plans will cover not only the policyholder but also eligible travel companions like a spouse and dependent children. Check with your provider who is covered and for what specific monetary amounts.
  • Time can be crucial when making a claim. For example, many companies insist on being alerted beforehand (unless in extremely urgent circumstances) of any medical procedures like major surgeries. Many also have a set period in which a claim must be made, such as within three months of the event, or coverage will be forfeited.

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